When I got hold of a copy of the latest Renaissance live release Turn Of The Cards & Scheherazade And Other Stories - Live In Concert everything with the band looked fine while recording the new studio album Grandine Il Vento. This will be the first album since they recorded Tuscany (2001) with long-time members Annie Haslam (vocals) and Michael Dunford (acoustic guitars, vocals). The rest of the line-up will probably consist of Rave Cesar (keyboards), David J. Keyes (bass, vocals), Jason Hart (keyboards, vocals) and Frank Pagano (drums, percussion, vocals) because they were also part of the line-up that was responsible for these fantastic live recordings on double CD and DVD! You could already get a short preview of this new CD/DVD set since the band played The Mystic And The Muse during the live performances.
In the fine looking booklet of this release they wrote: 'Looking back to 2009 when we decided to reunite and breathe life back into Renaissance, we had no idea what the future would hold for us.' Indeed, they didn't because in November 2012 the sad news arrived that Michael Dunford had passed away. He had just returned home from the first leg of the band's North American tour and he suffered a massive instantaneous cerebral haemorrhage while dining at his home in Surrey, England. He was rushed to the hospital where he passed away surrounded by his family without having regained consciousness. In February 2013 the band decided to continue with new guitarist Ryche Chlanda who used to play in Fireballet.
Well, knowing these new facts around the band I looked differently at doing a review of this release, especially because I had listened to both CDs and watched the DVD while Michael Dunford was still alive. His sudden death prevented me from writing this review earlier. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Turn Of The Cards... is a superb album and a must have for all fans of this great formation that recorded outstanding albums like Ashes Are Burning (1973), Turn Of The Cards (1974), Scheherazade And Other Stories (1975) and A Song For All Seasons (1978) in the past. The second and the third belonged to the favourite albums of the band. Therefore they decided to perform these most successful albums in its entirety on a Northeast USA tour in the autumn of 2011. They were preceded by other rock bands like Styx and Marillion who successfully performed their classic albums in its entirety as well. This also applied to Renaissance which made them decide to record one of the band's concerts for a CD and/or DVD release. This happened on September 23, 2011 at the sold out Philadelphia s Keswick Theatre before an enthusiastic audience.
It was certainly a wise decision to release the recordings of this concert since many fans in the world didn't get the chance to see the band perform on stage. The entire show can be watched on a DVD that has a perfect sound and clear images. Right from the start it's obvious that Annie Haslam's (67!) voice is still as beautiful and in tune after all those years. On this DVD Dunford is still alive and kicking playing his acoustic guitar and doing some additional vocals. These two original band members have asked the finest musicians to play with them just to be sure that both albums would be performed the way they sounded in the seventies. Both albums have been performed in detail; all drum fills or guitar riffs from the original albums were included. Perhaps some fans would have wished that the band would have performed those songs on the old instruments as well like the old vintage keyboards, the Rickenbacker bass guitars and the Taurus bass pedals. However, that would have been too dangerous because the old keyboards suffer from drop outs. Therefore they used modern technology instead. This worked perfectly because now the two keyboard players succeeded in creating the same sound that John Tout had in the seventies. Rave Cesar mostly provided John's impressive classical piano parts while Jason Hart took care of the chords and the solos.
I won't mention all tracks that were performed, but believe me: each one of them is a treat to the ears! That also applies for the breathtaking new piece The Mystic And The Muse, which was played as an encore and suits the band's older material from the golden years. The DVD also includes a twenty-minute long interview with Annie and Michael. They talk about how they love to perform these old songs again with a new band and to meet their fans. For people who only like to listen to this music they put the whole concert on a double CD! Unfortunately this stunning 2CD/DVD set can only be bought exclusively through the band's website. I hope this doesn't prevent people from buying it. Apart from the excellent music this set has been fabulously packed containing lots of pictures. Highly recommended!
****+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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